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Grand jury declines to indict Pecos police officers involved in deadly shooting

Adam Ybarra.
Courtesy of the family
Adam Ybarra.

A Reeves County grand jury has declined to indict multiple Pecos Police Department officers who were involved in the shooting death of 37-year-old Adam Ybarra in his home in November, officials said this week.

The grand jury’s decision was not publicly announced, but was confirmed by state and local police officials after inquiries from Marfa Public Radio.

The officials did not say when the decision was reached, and Reeves County District Attorney Randy Reynolds declined to comment on the decision, citing a still-pending investigation.

Since the deadly shooting on Nov. 26, officials have released hardly any details about what happened after officers arrived at Ybarra’s home in response to a call about what police described as an “ongoing domestic issue.”

In an initial statement released two days after the shooting, the Pecos Police Department said officers arrived at the home after receiving a “call for service” around 7:15 p.m. “Contact was made” with Ybarra, the statement said, “which resulted in an officer-involved shooting.”

The statement, which did not name the officers involved, did not say what unfolded inside the home that led to police shooting and killing Ybarra.

The department said the shooting left one officer with minor injuries and that the officers involved were placed on restrictive duty afterward.

A state-mandated report filed by the Pecos Police Department with the Texas Attorney General’s Office said that Ybarra had “carried, exhibited or used a deadly weapon,” but did not specify what the weapon was.

The shooting has raised concerns among those close to Ybarra who say he suffered from mental health issues and that police were too quick to use deadly force during the incident.

“If they would’ve took the time to see what was going on, to relay information, have discussions, come up with a plan, I think he’d still be here today,” Alvaro Navarette, Ybarra’s half brother, said in an interview.

Navarette was at Ybarra’s home at the time of the shooting and saw police kill his brother. He told Marfa Public Radio that his brother did not have a gun on him at the time of the shooting, but said Ybarra, at various times throughout the incident, was holding a hunting knife, a machete or a throwing ax he had won in a local competition.

Navaratte said the shooting originated with an argument Ybarra had with his ex-wife earlier in the day at another location. Police were responding to a call stemming from that incident when they arrived at Ybarra’s home, he said.

Ybarra had a history of mental health issues, Naverette said, including bipolar disorder and periodic seizures. After the incident with his ex-wife, Ybarra was in a state of distress, upset and angry when officers and family members arrived at his home, Navarette said.

Some details of how police say the shooting unfolded were revealed in a Reeves County Sheriff’s Office report obtained by Marfa Public Radio through a public records request.

In the report, a sheriff’s deputy wrote that when he arrived at the home, multiple Pecos police officers were on the scene: an officer named in the report as K. Florez, along with two named only as Officer Ramos and Officer Silva.

The deputy wrote that he was advised that Ybarra was inside the home and “did have a weapon on him” and that the mother was attempting to get Ybarra to put the weapon down. Navarette later arrived and entered the home.

Standing at the door, the deputy wrote, he saw the Pecos police officers unholster their guns and “begin giving Ybarra commands to drop it.”

Shortly after, the report said, the deputy heard the officers fire their weapons. “It appeared to me that they were backing up while discharging,” the deputy wrote.

After the shooting stopped, the deputy wrote, Ybarra’s brother - Alvaro Navarette - walked out of the home “understandably upset” and “grabbed his mother who was then crying on the ground.”

According to Navarette, when he arrived and entered the home before the police had gone inside, he found his brother holding a machete and a hunting knife and talking about being upset about his life. Ybarra had been in similar mental states before, Navarette said. He began talking to Ybarra, attempting to calm him down, and felt he was making progress.

“Adam actually drops his head, and he says, ‘Man, I’m f---ing up ain’t I?” Navarette recalled. “I said, ‘Come on, give me the knife, give me the machete,’ and he actually handed me - he surrendered the hunting knife.”

But the situation rapidly escalated, Navarette said, when one of the police officers entered the home, agitating his brother more.

“I’m there talking to them, telling them ‘Hey, calm down, this doesn’t need to go this way,’” Navarette said. “Let’s take a deep breath, other than lethal, let’s try something else.”

Navarette said he then saw Ybarra pick up a separate throwing ax that was in the home.

A crucial moment happened shortly after, when, according to Navarette, one of the officers used a Taser on Ybarra.

In recent weeks, police officials have declined repeated requests for comment on what exactly prompted the officers to shoot after they encountered Ybarra.

Navarette said after police officers shocked his brother with a Taser, he saw one of the weapons come out of Ybarra’s hand and “bounce” on the floor. But Navarette said a police investigator later told him that body camera footage from the scene showed his brother throwing the weapon at officers.

Police officials have not commented on that moment, and have not released body camera footage from the incident. The Pecos Police Department is currently appealing a public records request from Marfa Public Radio for the footage, police incident reports and other documents from the shooting to the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which has not issued a ruling on the matter.

“To me, I thought it was a reaction,” Navarette said of the weapon leaving his brother’s hand. “A body reaction to getting tased.”

Navarette claimed that his mother had called police more than an hour before police arrived at Ybarra’s home and advised them that he suffered from mental health issues, another detail that police have not commented on.

“They had information that could’ve changed the outcome,” he said. “If there was a break in communication, why?”

Reflecting on his brother’s life, Navarette described his brother as a man who, despite his mental health struggles, “loved life” and had a passion for music and his three children. He taught guitar lessons at a summer camp, frequented his kids’ sporting events and had in recent years discovered a “newfound belief in God,” Navarette said.

“Did he struggle? Yes,” Navarette said. “But the way it ended shouldn’t have ended that way.”

Navarette said he hopes the shooting and his brother’s death will prompt police agencies to think more critically about how they approach encounters with people dealing with mental health issues.

“Every police department, sheriff’s department should have the funding for mental health,” he said. “That’s what I would like to bring to light.”

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.